Review Blog

Dec 02 2015

These shallow graves by Jennifer Donnelly

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Hot Key Books, 2015. ISBBN 9781471405150
(Age 13+) Recommended. New York City. 1890. Jo Montfort is used to a life of ease - rich and pretty, she is expected to marry a young man from her class and become a society hostess. But this is not what Jo wants - she loves to write and dearly wishes to become a reporter like Nellie Bly, who spent 10 days in a mad house and described what happened to her. When Jo's father is found dead in his study shot with his own pistol, it is ruled a suicide, but some things just don't match up and Jo, with the help of handsome Eddie, a reporter at her father's newspaper, decides to investigate. Secrets are uncovered, seedy neighbourhoods are visited and deadly danger is faced while the dirty truth is uncovered.
The stand out aspect of this novel for me was the in-depth research that had gone into the life and times of New York in 1890. Donnelly brings the period to life, describing the rich and idle young women who are desperate for wealthy husbands, the rules constricting women of all classes from reaching their potential, the contrasts between the rich and the poor, the desperate children who are forced into crime and the shipping empires of the times. The new science of forensics is also explored and will thrill readers who like those details in their crime novels. The author has used real historical characters like Nellie Bly and this is sure to engage the reader's interest and could provide an incentive to do some follow-up research.
Although it is 487 pages long, each chapter is quite short and easy to read, and the narrative flow along very smoothly, building up suspense as the reader is dragged into the dangerous world that Jo and Eddie are investigating. Jo is a very engaging heroine and the reader becomes emotionally involved with her struggle to become something more than a wife and to overcome the prejudices of the times. Eddie is a heroic figure as well and the growing feelings between the two highlight the problems that people from different classes have if they fall in love.
This is certainly a book that readers of historical crime will devour as well as fans of Donnelly's other books: the award winning Gathering light, Revolution and the Waterfire saga.
Pat Pledger

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